We are the first generation of parents raising “digital natives”. For those of you that have never heard the term, a digital native is defined as a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the internet from an early age. I know many parents would like to take a hard stance and say no technology, but the fact is that technology is a major part of their lives. I think of it a little like riding in a car – could you live your life without a car? Possibly, depending on what city you live in and how close you are to local stores. However, a time would come where you had to travel beyond the foot/bike radius and you’d give in to modern transportation. You may see this as an extreme example, but I would venture to say that when we restrict technology with our kids, it feels like a similar extreme to them.
We all have read the articles and heard the stories about how too much screen time can impact sleep and behavior. We also know as they grow older, technology becomes a major part of their social lives, with its own list of “rules”, both written and unwritten. And that’s just from the perspective of our kids. What about the parent’s perspective? We have more on our plates than ever before. We need the screens to help us out as we get dinner started or do “just one more thing”.
No matter what your stance is right now on screen time, I’m guessing that like me, you feel a little guilt with your decision. The debate in your head argues that if you restrict them too much, they could start sneaking around, trying to use it when you’re not looking. Or maybe you feel you are being too lenient, you know you need to crack down, but you just can’t deal with the aftermath when you take it away.
So, what’s a parent to do? How to we figure out if we are doing it “right”? I think there are a lot of factors that go into it and that’s why there is no one right way. First, you need to tune in to your child and see how the technology is impacting them. Do you see a difference in behavior or sleep patterns? If so, then changes are probably needed. Second, you need to have open dialogue with your child, so they fully understand the boundaries you are setting. Young children don’t have a strong concept of time, so counting down “5 more minutes” may be a difficult concept for them to grasp. Using a timer or visual indicator (i.e. the song at the end of a show that signals it’s over) can help. With older kids, the dialogue can expand to the reasons why you’ve set the boundaries. Encourage them to be active participants and be open to negotiation (i.e. asking for extra time on the weekends after chores are done).
The next thing you can do is to continue to educate yourself and get support. My good friends Sue DeCaro and Erin Taylor, co-founders of Building Connected Communities, have created a new online summit, The Screen Machine: Navigating Technology in our Families. They were inspired to get this conversation started to help parents and other caregivers learn how to navigate this often-tricky topic. The Summit starts January 15th and will bring together 22 experts talking about technology and screen time in our families from 22 unique perspectives. The experts interviewed include New York Times Best Selling Authors Dr. Dan Siegal and Dr. Shefali! Best of all, the summit is FREE, just follow this link to sign up and the interviews will be delivered to your email starting on the 15th.
In the end, we are all trying to do what is best for our own kids. There is no one size fits all. It involves a lot of trial and error to see what works. Just remember it’s never too late, you can always try something different and make a change.